DVA's Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Trish Batchelor discusses the COVID-19 vaccination roll-out.
When I last wrote a column in DVA's newspaper Vetaffairs, in July of last year, I could not have imagined that we would now be talking about not one, but a number of vaccines that are showing real-world effectiveness against COVID-19 far beyond what we had hoped was possible.
As at 29 March, almost 125 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported and more than 2.7 million people have died from the infection worldwide. The good news is we are starting to see a drop in daily reported cases, and a drop in deaths in some countries such as Israel and the UK, which are more advanced in their vaccine implementation. Real-world data is showing 85% to 95% protection against hospitalisation from COVID-19 at 28 days post first vaccine dose for both of the vaccines that are being used in the Australian vaccination program. It is clear that these are lifesaving vaccines.
More than 530 million doses of vaccine have been administered in 141 countries.
Australia’s COVID-19 vaccination strategy has necessarily taken a risk-based approach, as we don’t yet have enough vaccine for everyone. However, vaccine accessibility will increase rapidly over the coming months. Being able to manufacture the vaccine in Australia puts us at a huge advantage.
At this stage, the main goal of vaccination is to prevent death and severe disease, and we know that both vaccines available in Australia are highly effective in this respect.
The vaccinations are being rolled out in overlapping phases. The initial phase (1a), applies to people in the highest risk groups. They comprise people who face a higher likelihood of: exposure to the virus (e.g. quarantine workers or frontline healthcare workers); developing severe or fatal disease (e.g. aged care and disability care residents); or of transmitting the disease to the most vulnerable populations (e.g. aged-care and disability care staff).
Phase 1b applies to older age groups (over 70 years), individuals with pre-existing illnesses that predispose them to more severe disease, and other occupational groups. Phases 2a and 2b apply to the rest of the adult population.
To find out when you are eligible to receive the vaccine, visit www.australia.gov.au and complete the COVID-19 Vaccine Eligibility Checker online. This will tell you which phase you are in. Once phase 1b has started rolling out, the eligibility checker will also help you to find a vaccination clinic near you if you are in Phase 1a or Phase 1b. If you are not in Phase 1a or Phase 1b, you’ll be able to register your interest to be notified when your phase starts.
What you need to know to get vaccinated
The federal Department of Health website is your best source of up-to-date information about the COVID vaccination roll-out. For instance, you may wish to read Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine national roll-out strategy
The Services Australia website also has information on getting ready for your vaccinations.
Everyone living in Australia will be offered a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. The vaccines are voluntary and free.
You do not need a prescription to get vaccinated.
Information on how you can access your vaccination is available on the Health Department website. Around 4,600 general practices have been approved as authorised vaccination clinics. You can also access the vaccine from state- and territory-run vaccination clinics and GP Respiratory Clinics. Eventually, pharmacies will become involved.
Your GP will be regularly updated on the roll-out in their region via their state or territory health departments and primary healthcare networks.
What you need to get the vaccination
If you have a Veteran Gold Card, bring that.
If you have a Veteran White Card, bring your Medicare card as well.
If you have a Veteran Orange Card, just bring your Medicare card.
Please also bring photo ID if you have it.
The Department of Health website provides information about what else you might need to bring if you’re receiving a vaccination as part of phase 1b of the roll-out.
Also, make sure that your Medicare details are up to date.
If you don’t have a Medicare card and you don’t know your Medicare number, phone Medicare on 132 011.
If you don’t have a Medicare number, you can still get the COVID-19 vaccine. We recommend you call Medicare on 132 011 first, to check you are not enrolled with Medicare already. The staff member will help you to either enrol in Medicare or to apply for an Individual Healthcare Identifier (IHI) if you don’t already have one.
Even if you are not in Medicare, you will have an IHI if you get a DVA pension or benefit.
People who are not eligible for Medicare, for example a temporary resident, will need to attend a state- or territory-run vaccination clinic to get their COVID-19 vaccines.
You can find more information about getting an IHI on the Services Australia website.
Taking, or not taking, the COVID-19 vaccine will not affect your DVA support or benefits, including health and financial benefits.
What you need to get your immunisation record
When you get your COVID-19 vaccine, it will be recorded on the Australian Immunisation Register. You can see the vaccines recorded on the register with your immunisation history statement. You can get your statement from:
- your Medicare online account, through myGov
- the Express Plus Medicare app
- calling the Australian Immunisation Register on 1800 653 809 (select option 4 for a dedicated helpline for veterans), or
- asking your health professional to print you a copy.
Having a Medicare number in no way conflicts with your usual Veteran Card entitlements, but will make it easier to access your immunisation record online.
If you don’t have a Medicare number and you want to access your immunisation summary online, you can do this with myHealth Record in myGov. You will need to link myHealth Record to your myGov account, using your IHI. See the My Health Record website for more information.
You might also want to look at our frequently asked questions page.